This year, our preparations were severely marred by a string of events from the school curriculum. That made it much harder for the team to assemble and work out a consistent training program. The best that I could do was to gather the team for 3 3-hour sessions to drill in tactical play, opening predictions and bolstering their opening choices.
The team started well, despatching Global Indian International 4-0 and RI Team 2 3.5-0.5, with Joven saving a totally lost game when his opponent blundered a Queen. Beating ACI Team B was another good score, though Jonah tried too hard to win and lost. Luck favoured us in the early rounds but not later.
After lunch tension mounted as the next 3 teams were all the prize winners. It was here that champions would be forged and we came up short - not so in preparation, but in practical play. Although we secured a 3-1 win against RI Team 1, the next 2 pairings were undoubtedly the toughest as we sat to meet Hwa Chong Institution. Jonah played his heart out to beat Peter Matthew Chin in a closely fought endgame 2 minutes from the end, when Peter crumbled after allowing Jonah's pawns to race through. Though we've not seen Lee Kah Win in action lately, he held the position steady to coast home against Zhong Yi. Unfortunately late studying of the Dutch did not help as he could not find his bearings and went down eventually. Nicholas did not give problems to Bryan Tan who was calmly waiting for fireworks to happen and when Nicholas's time was short, he decided to win the game on time instead. Elliot panicked in time trouble and lost against Lu Chen. In spite of losing 2.5-1.5 to HCI, we had to play ACI A and had to expect the worst.
Thankfully the lineup was correctly chosen to field Joven against Linson and Elliot against Joel Chan. At one point Joven had a double attack on Linson's bishop and threatening mate. Linson gave the exchange instead and after subsequent play, it was a complex Rook endgame and Linson's experience carried him through when Joven moved his Rook from the last rank and allowed him to promote. It was a heart-rending outcome but then, as I always believed, all in chess is fair. Victory goes to the active and prepared.
Zhong Yi did manage to ruffle Iskandar's feathers when he played the Classical Dutch, but after some moves his unfamiliarity showed as he could not find answers to Iskandar's consistent gain of space and had to resort to tactics which lost him more and more pawns. The outcome was long decided but at first board, Jonah created a stunning upset which seemed to turn tables around by launching a mating attack against his 1692 rated Eugene Wee! With Elliot holding on, Joven an exchange up, it could have gone 3-1 for VS but unfortunately Joven lost and Elliot had to take the draw being short on time though a piece up. That allowed NUS High A to catch up and pip VS to 5th place.
So we had to settle for being East Zone Champions, being ahead of Dunman High and Tanjong Katong Secondary.
Generally I did not think the boys worked harder than they did last year, except for Zhong Yi and Jonah who did their part in regular online practice. When the crunch came in the shootouts, it was obvious that their nerves gave way, or in the case of Nicholas, totally oblivious of his time shortage and lost on time without even rushing. In view of these observations, 5th placing was in my opinion justifiable.
Sadly, this may be the last team outing for VS in the chess scene as there were rumoured plans to shut the Chess CCA in view of poor attendance in the CCA. What really happened was that no one wanted to join it as a 2nd CCA and yet need to be involved in the first CCA. So putting Chess as a second CCA literally condemns it to die a natural death. This is happening across many secondary schools and the erosion is clearly seen in the Sec Open U14 where only 12 teams were mustered. In the Sec Open U14 Girls, only 6 teams took part.
If this state of affairs continues, I shudder to think what the secondary school chess scene may be in the next 5 years? This state of erosion would soon permeate into the primary schools and before long, more schools would stop offering chess as a CCA and where does that leave us ? With a dormant adult chess-playing scene (now most adult players are foreigners), the 4 10-year (from 1969) cohort of 400+ students that have participated in the schools championships would soon start to dwindle. Lastly, the number of arbiters and helpers - nearly all are above 30 years of age. If no new blood comes in to help in the organisation of chess events, we would not be able to sustain the running of chess tournaments in this island soon.
Like the number of spoilt chess clocks discovered yesterday suggests, our organisers, like the equipment are aging. Though we can replace the equipment, organisers cannot be bought. If you have read my posting about this issue here, you've known that we need to foster the love for chess other than just competitions or else the passion for this game will be gone.